Amazingly enough, I may actually have some hope when it comes to creating beautiful artwork. What I find most interesting about renaissance art is the amalgamation of subjects such as science and mathematics in art, which is so evident in the great artwork that has defined this period.
According to McKay, the renaissance was a time of great change in art, as paintings, sculptures, and architecture became more detailed, expressive, and beautiful (McKay, 425). Behind these changes in the beauty of art, were significant advances in science, engineering, and mathematics, that allowed this art to have improved elements of mood, perspective, interpretation of emotion, detail, color, and texture, that all made art more realistic.
I think Filippo Brunelleschi’s experiment in linear perspective around 1420 was one of the most interesting mathematical advances that truly changed art forever. Essentially, Brunelleschi discovered the concepts of orthogonals and vanishing points that allow for a 3D representation on a 2D surface. This was a major advancement in art that allowed paintings to depict a far more realistic image of the world (Linear Perspective). You can watch a video about this experiment here. I can still remember learning about linear perspective in my 6th grade art class. Though I was by far the worst artist in the class, using linear perspective in my landscape drawing made it look very realistic and made the images pop out of the paper. Brunelleschi must have truly been an extraordinary mind to develop a new geometric technique to enhance his artwork. Yet, this knowledge of a vast body of subjects is something that was not uncommon during the renaissance. These sorts of people, known as polymaths, were simply fulfilling the humanist ideal and proving that man’s capabilities are unlimited.
One of the most famous polymaths of all time was Leonardo DaVinci. Among other things, he was a painter, sculptor, musician, inventor, and scientist (Boston Museum). A prime example of DaVinci’s scientific knowledge influencing his art was in his unfinished work Adoration of the Magi. This painting depicts the 3 wise men coming to give gifts to baby Jesus. In the foreground of this painting, many people are crowding around the baby, trying to see what the wise men are giving him. The most interesting part of this painting to me was the fact that these people crowding around appear like skeletons. These skeletal structures are unfinished depictions of human beings that reveal a great deal about DaVinci’s methods. In order to create a more realistic depiction of human beings, he built their bodies using exact human anatomy. By understanding the inner workings of the human body, DaVinci was better able to depict both the physical actions of people, as well as the interpretation of emotion. You can watch a video about Adoration of the Magi here. Below is an image of this unfinished masterpiece.
Being primarily a math and science kid, I truly appreciate the idea that knowledge and advancement of math and science are what created some of the most beautiful art in the world. I may even have some hope at becoming the next DaVinci or Brunelleschi! But I better not get my hopes up.
McKay, John. A History of Western Society. 9. B. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. 421-428.
Linear Perspective: Filippo Brunelleschi’s Experiment. Smarthistory.org, 2011. Web. 27 Feb 2012. <http://vimeo.com/32339791>.
Leonardo DaVinci, Adoration of the Magi. Smarthistory.org, 2011. Web. 27 Feb 2012. <http://vimeo.com/32339791>.
“Leonardo da Vinci.” Boston Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Mar 2012. <http://www.mos.org/leonardo/>.